And this led to David Freese and the Cardinals’ last hope. Soon, as announcers like to say, he was down to his last strike, and then he hit a 98-mph fastball hard to right field. And the beauty of it was that in the instant after the ball was hit, it had a chance to be anything. He had obviously hit it well — the ball cracked off the bat — but there was no telling how well. It had a chance to be a home run. It had a chance to be an out. I have written before that there is nothing in sports like the successful Hail Mary pass in football, and the main reason I think that is that no two Hail Mary passes are alike. Sometimes they deflect from one receiver to another. Sometimes they bounce off the defenders’ hands and back to a waiting receiver. Sometimes the pass just drops into a pile and sticks in a receiver’s hands. Really, there are countless geometrical possibilities. Baseball doesn’t usually have that kind of geometry. Home runs are home runs. Singles are singles. Pop-outs are pop-outs.
But Freese’s fly was something like a Hail Mary, there was just no telling how it would end while the ball was in the air. Cruz went back on it with the cautious nature of an outfielder who is about to make a catch. This is the thing that baseball people have told me and I have told countless people — watch the outfielder. They will usually tell you the story. Cruz seemed ready to catch the ball. But this time Cruz’s apparent calm was an illusion — he had misread the wall. He thought he was a lot closer to it. I have seen the replay a dozen times now, and it seems to me that he could have caught that ball, should have caught that ball, that the wall and the moment conquered him. He leaped for the ball, but awkwardly and meagerly, like someone descending stairs in the dark who doesn’t realize that there is one more step. The ball crashed off the wall, bounced by him, and the Cardinals scored two runs to tie the game and the St. Louis crowd transformed into a jet engine.